THOUGHTS ON GARCIA: DON'T LET GO

JAY BLAKESBERG

1. How would you say the music of Jerry Garcia and/or the man himself has influenced your music, your craft, and/or your life path?


A Young Jay Blakesberg
Being 15 or 16 or 17 years old in suburban anywhere USA is always a difficult time. It doesn't matter what decade it is, you are just searching for your place in the script. Any of our high school friends could have been born with the same distorted Psychedelic chip that I was lucky enough to win in the DNA lottery, but it is just as likely they wouldn't. You might just have to go somewhere else to find those like-minded people. The teen friends you are hanging with might drop acid with you on a snow day, but for them it is a party day. For you, your mind is forever blown, and it is a life-changing experience. Most of my friends from those beer and bong-drenched days in the late 1970's never made it past the 50-mile radius of ground zero in suburban NJ. I remember in 1976 my friend Nick Katsanis told me we have to go see the Grateful Dead before they break up I did a Jerry Garcia Band show in July 1977 (Asbury Park, NJ), followed by my first Dead show at Englishtown, Labor Day Weekend 1977. I smoked pot, drank beer, and grooved to a few songs that I thought I knew. I was 15. Within two years, I would travel to shows that were five or more hours away. I met people who were like me. I danced by myself to live bootleg cassettes in the family rec room on the lame stereo that came with the house when we moved in around 1971. I was changing. My friends in high school were not. They were still your classic 1970's stoner knuckleheads drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon cans and smoking Colombian pot in U.S. Bongs bought down at the mall. By the time I graduated high school, with a Skull & Roses patch hand-sewn to my blue graduation gown, my life was changed. I might not have known it right then and there, but two very pivotal things had happened to me: psychedelics and the Grateful Dead. I was on the bus, and thru a strange set of circumstances, I had a camera with me. I love taking pictures It gave me a certain identity that maybe I was searching for as the lost stoner in high school. Little did I know that it would be my career (and still my identity to many people). I didn't have any understanding what a photography career could be back then. In about 1981, I was at a party with my DeadHead hippie girlfriend at her father's Upper West Side apartment. He was in the textile business, and many of his colleagues were there. A very nice gay man asked what I wanted to do with my life. I said photography. When he asked what kind, I had no idea. I didn't even know what the options were. I was clueless Lou Reed wrote (but Page sang it to us all), my life was saved by Rock and Roll. I could not be any more like that person than I am today. Photography, and the creative outlet it has given me, started with bringing my camera to Grateful Dead concerts. Today it is what I live, think, and breathe everyday. I love this and am so happy that I have made it as far as I have doing something that brings me so much joy that brings a positive reaction to so many of the people who have seen my work over the years (if you read photo credits). I hate to think where I would have landed in that 50-mile radius if the Grateful Dead, psychedelics, and photography all hadn't come together for me.

2. What is your fondest memory of Jerry Garcia?


Jerry Garcia by Jay Blakesberg
I am a firm believer that life should be fun. Yes, life is serious business. Politics, environmental awareness, economic reality, children, and everything else we do are important facets of living, but you still have to have fun When I graduated from high school and went on tour, the real fun began, and it was non-stop. Going on tour or to cool rock festivals to experience the wealth of incredible music today is a much different journey than it was when I started to see the Grateful Dead. Listen to any Dead show from the mid 1970's and you are likely to hear mind-blowing rock and roll that was so far out in left field compared to anything else that was happening at the time. It was the beginning of a new and exciting time for music that we took very seriously, but also realized how much fun and joy could be had from being on tour with all these other crazy, like-minded freaks. The music was bliss, and it was Jerry's playing and the words he sang that were the focus of my Grateful Dead experience. Jerry's playing was truly like no other, and for a true music fan like myself, it was an experience that will stay with me forever. His playing could at times be so spectacular that we literally had to be scraped off the floor after an incredible show (but let's be real and remember that it wasn't always an incredible show). I can still go back and listen to Dick's Pick's # 15 (Englishtown - 77) and listen to the He's Gone/Not Fade Away jam at full volume and have the hair stand up on the back of my neck. That 35-plus-minute section of music is some of the most inspiring playing I have ever experienced, and compared to anything else being played in 1977 by any other artist, it is so completely original and truly mind-blowing. Yes, the music played by the Grateful Dead and the times we had on tour were very fun, and for that I will be forever grateful

3. What would you say is the most significant thing Jerry has given the world?


Jerry Garcia by Jay Blakesberg
As a young DeadHead, almost anything Jerry did I thought was great. We placed him high on a pedestal and thought he was channeling the word of God (pretty easy to think on 1000 mics). By the time I moved to the Bay Area in the mid 1980's, I was thinking about how I could make a living taking pictures. Relix Magazine would publish my photos, and by that time the pay had increased from under $10 per picture in the late 1970's to a whopping $25 per image. As my life changed to that of a working photojournalist, I began to get opportunities to photograph many amazing musicians whose music had touched me in some way. After a few years of trying to ignore a bloated and inconsistent Grateful Dead, I returned to them with enthusiasm after Jerry's 1986 coma. They came back playing stronger than they had in many years, and I tapped right back into the zeitgeist. I also was shooting more of the scene again. Beginning in 1987, I started a wonderful relationship with The Golden Road Magazine. Thru that relationship, I got my first opportunity to do a solo portrait with Garcia. It was January of 1991, and it was to be at the Dead office in San Rafael. I was so excited to have this opportunity and thought about all the different ways I could spend what I thought would be maybe a thirty-minute photo session. Dennis McNally (GD publicist) put me in an office so small that I had to climb on the desk to get in front of Garcia to shoot. I was given under three-minutes to do the entire shoot of Garcia alone and Garcia with Robert Hunter. The solo portrait of Jerry turned out to be my absolute favorite shot that I ever did of him, and it will grace the new, special 40th anniversary issue of Relix Magazine this month. It was also that day that I realized that Jerry was just a regular guy who did not really like all the limelight stuff that came with being a rock star. He didn't really care about the photo shoot and was only there because he was told it was part of the deal for the interview. He became a very human guy to me that day, but still a guy that could play music that moved people in ways they didn't even know they could move.

For more of Jay Blakesberg's work, please go to www.blakesberg.com. For information on Between the Dark and Light: The Grateful Dead Photography of Jay Blakesberg, click here.

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Go Listen to Garcia


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